Albany. Teacher Evaluation, Cuomo. Seeming Chaos and the Heritage of James Madison

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. Otto von Bismarck

Thousands upon thousands of emails, texts, tweets; hundreds of visits, scores of demonstrations and rallies all challenging decisions of the governor. Millions of dollars funneled into the governor’s campaign, each day the tension builds towards decisions on teacher evaluation, tenure, “receivership’ and school aid.

It all seems chaotic and confusing, and James Madison would be smiling.

The “chaos” in Albany is the essence of democracy, the rough and tumble of politics was described by Madison as “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” exactly how decisions should be made. Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

… the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions (Federalist # 51, 2/6/1788)

Yes, men are not angels.

The Democratic controlled Assembly, the Republican controlled Senate and the governor are jousting. The “public” casting arrows at the governor, the governor defending, deals offered, rejected, with a ticking clock.

Carl Heastie, the newly elected Speaker of Assembly meets with his members before and/or after each session, called “conference.” The speaker takes the “temperature of his members.” Under his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, the conference was pro forma, Silver ruled with an iron fist, any disloyalty. or perceived disloyalty was treated with retribution. Heastie, on the other hand, has been open to his members. The dumping of two long time incumbent regents and the election of four new regents clearly was the will of local members of the Assembly.

At the Monday conference a proposed teacher evaluation plan, referred to as a “matrix” was discussed and looked upon with suspicion by the members. On Tuesday a new plan, a six member committee, two each appointed by the governor, the Assembly and the Senate, and reporting back by June 1st, all state aid would be held up until the committee reports. Thursday a plan to turn the creation of a new teacher evaluation plan over to the Regents.

And probably new “concepts” coming fast and furious as we move toward the March 31 end of the fiscal year.

State aid could be held hostage until teacher evaluation is resolved. As the governor’s popularity rating continues to tank the legislators are more emboldened.

Perhaps members will have an opportunity to run home Sunday, do laundry and run back for the Monday through Aril 1 almost round the clock sessions.

If the factions cannot reach a budget by April 1 the governor can take the nuclear option, issue “emergency budget extenders” and force through his budget. See the background on the extender option here
and the current Cuomo “threats” here.

The extender option would be declaring war on the legislature and with a falling popularity rating the extender option, if popular with the public could revive his reputation or sink him to the depths.

I am asked “Aren’t the Republicans on the governor’s side?” Yes, the Republicans support charter schools, as long as they’re not in their districts; however the Republicans need the Democrats on the issue of “ethics,” a rather obtuse term. The key factor is a limitation on outside income, Many in the Republican leadership retain high-paying jobs as lawyers, and some may have “Shelly Silver ” problems. The Republicans need the Democrats to avoid being squeezed by the governor.

All sides need an artfully crafted solution that will allow everyone to claim “victory.” The Governor, the Assembly, the Senate, the teacher union and the public, all must appear to have saved face and come away with a piece of the pie.

It is rare to be able to claim victory while holding the still warm heart of your enemy over your head, although when Shelly Silver was led away in handcuffs it was the gratifying equivalent.

I was arguing a grievance before an arbitrator, while I knew I was right the Department was arguing the grievance was untimely, they would agree they were wrong, they would not agree to back pay.

A light bulb flashed! I convinced the arbitrator, and eventually the Department to put days into the grievant’s absent teacher reserve that equaled the value of the lost salary. The Department didn’t have to write a check and the grievant received a remedy that probably exceeded the actual back pay. A win-win.

Can the contending sides craft a “win-win”?

For Madison the essence of government: In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.

Ultimately the labyrinth that are the halls of Albany will be mastered by the people. That is the magnificent beauty that our founding father left to us to cherish and defend.

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